Dispatch from Cuba, A Land of Inconsistencies
by Trinity Peacock-Broyles '03
One look at my friend Joyce told me that something was terribly wrong. She looked scared and upset, the tears streaming down her face, changing her usually cheerful demeanor. I looked at her quizzically; for an answer, I followed her into her room and directed my gaze to where she pointed, at the television. "Someone is attacking the U.S.," she said. I must have looked even more baffled, even though I could clearly see the horrendous images on TV, so she explained that three planes had crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, on purpose. I sat down on her bed, stunned, and listened as the CNN commentators analyzed the situation in Spanish. I heard them say, "Una de las torres gemelas de Nueva York se derrumba!"
I ran to my room and grabbed my dictionary
and journal. I translated "derrumba" into "collapsed"
and hurriedly wrote down the news in my journal because I knew
that I would want to remember every detail of that day.
I dreaded going to the central library where many American students from my program congregate to write e-mail, because I knew that none of them had heard the news yet (they had arrived on an earlier bus), and that several even had family working in New York and Washington, D.C. When I told my friends there, many of them looked at me as incredulously as I had looked at Joyce 30 minutes before, and some began to cry. I felt very vulnerable knowing that I could do nothing to help my country while some uncontrollable power was at large, wreaking havoc and acting insanely.
At lunchtime we gathered in La Habana
Libre (The Free Havana), a large hotel with a big-screen TV.
There, we found American students from the other two programs
as well as many of the international guests at the hotel. As
Cuban employees looked on, the Americans excitedly voiced various
opinions and questions. Would we have to go home? Could we get
home? Were we safe? Someone said that our group director had
told her that the U.S. Interests Section (similar
I had no idea that, as we were trying
to make sense of the news we had received, the Cuban government
was busy putting an alternate spin on the story. On September
12 in the official newspaper, Granma, Fidel Castro declared his
empathy for the American people. He stated clearly that Cuba
is against terrorism-and no doubt this seems like an appropriate
statement-but when I took the time to read the article in full,
I saw that while Cuba is against terrorism, Castro was really
saying that he is against terrorism and against the U.S. government.
Unfortunately, history and ideology, not just 90 miles, separate the two neighbors.
These differences are part of what makes studying in Cuba such a unique experience. The other day I went to an anti-American demonstration, where I told a young Cuban that I was Canadian in order to avoid any confrontation; I figured that I could pass because at least I knew the language. The U.S. government issued a worldwide caution after September 11 about the security of Americans overseas, and the Department of State recommends that students avoid demonstrations that could turn violent or anti-American.
So why would I go to a "tribunal," a public harangue where Castro and the Habaneros (citizens of Havana) say "Estados Unidos" (United States) like it's a dirty word? Because I'm here in Cuba to learn about a different political system, culture and language. I do not like the fact that Castro is taking advantage of the terrorist attack against my country to further his political control by invoking more anti-American sentiment, but this too is part of the learning experience. Castro can boast that Cuba has free health care and education, but what use is a mended leg when one does not have the freedom to leave the country, or the use of an educated mind when it is not allowed to espouse counter-revolutionary ideas?
Luckily for me, having a critical perspective of my government is allowed, is actually considered democratic and is even encouraged. America is not a "melting pot"; Americans are a diverse people of many ethnicities, languages, religions and cultures, who all speak out and claim their Americanness and at the same time retain their individuality. I am continuing, and freely practicing, the American right of freedom of speech. Every day I am thankful that I am here in Cuba because this opportunity constantly challenges me to rethink my politics, my relationships and my sense of being. When I fly home for Christmas, I will be eager to return to a country where Santa Claus has never been illegal, but also sad to leave this place of personal discovery.
Trinity Peacock-Broyles is currently on her Junior Year Abroad with the University of Butler COPA program. She spent her fall semester in Cuba.
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